For a couple of years now I have been regularly asked by patients about a new group of so called wonder cures – Glyconutrients. Should we use them Doc?
Patients, and families of patients, with everything from spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Down’s syndrome and even cancer have heard about this class of “nutri-ceuticals” – and have been told (by the people who sell them) and read on web sites (run by the people who sell them) of the amazing ability of these products to cure almost anything.
So what are Glyconutrients?
Glyconutrients are essentially sugars, sold primarily by the supplement manufacturer Mannatech under the product line Ambrotose, but also by a couple of other manufacturers. These products contain complex forms of eight monosaccharides (simple carbohydrates, or sugars). These are extracted from Larch bark and Aloe and also contain vegetable gums.
Mannatech claims that our diets are lacking in all but two (glucose and galactose) of these sugars and that there are significant health benefits to be gained by taking these supplements. Historically Mannatech and their marketing associates have claimed that these products enhance the immune system and successfully treat a wide range of medical conditions, from diabetes and high cholesterol to psoriasis and multiple sclerosis.
Now, it is true that sugars are not just "empty" calories, but can and do play a pivotal role in many biological functions, including cell-to-cell communication and immunity. There is even a whole emerging and important field of science, called glycobiology, which explores the function of sugars and carbohydrates in health and disease, but the reality is that glyconutrient marketers actually have no basis for saying that consuming the sugars in their supplements has health benefits.
For one thing, our bodies are able to convert the sugars in foods (such as fruits and vegetables) from one form to the other forms as needed. There is also no evidence that toxins, stress, drugs, or other factors interfere with the conversion process, as the marketers of glyconutrients claim. And finally there is no evidence that relying on our bodies to create the sugars instead of ingesting them in food or glyconutrient supplements causes any problems.
Glyconutrient marketers have provided long lists of “studies” that supposedly support the use of glyconutrients for all kinds of medical conditions, as well as for general health, but these are unpublished conference presentations, anecdotes, lab or animal studies, or they are from obscure journals of questionable reputation. They represent a litany of smoke and mirrors.
A recent 25 year scientific review (published by 2 top researchers in the peer reviewed Journal of Glycobiology) of research into the actual effects of Glyconutrients on human health showed that:
•There are no properly constructed clinical studies that have ever proven that glyconutrients have any positive effect at all – in fact the only reasonably designed studies available have shown that that they do not work in several specific conditions.
•Glyconutrients (specifically the larch bark and Aloe extracts and plant gums included in the Mannatech products) are not even absorbed from the bowel – and are passed through the gut undigested.
•These specific products are not even found in the blood stream and cellular fluids of test subjects after they have been dosed with them for 2 weeks.
In February this year, Mannatech settled a civil claim brought against it by the Texas Attorney General for $6 million. The Attorney General had charged Mannatech with using "false, misleading, or deceptive acts or practices" to "sell [glyconutrients] as a way to cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent diseases, illnesses or serious conditions, despite [their] admission that the products do not cure any disease, and despite the fact that this marketing violates both federal and state food and drug laws.". The lawsuit went on to criticize the company for preying on the sick, desperate and uninformed.
Mannatech agreed to pay the massive fine and have said that they have substantially reviewed their marketing practices, without actually acknowledging any wrongdoing, but the fact is that the internet is now littered with old references to the “efficacy’ of these products – and the deceptive information is mostly all still out there. And as a result people are still discovering the “miracle cure” – and buying the product.
Now why, you may be asking, am I going on about this?
Well, consider for a moment that one month’s supply of a glyconutrient will set you back between R1 200 and R1 400 – that’s over R15 000 per year and, you too may start to understand.
I have seen families desperate for a cure, or for improvement, struggle to find enough money to pay for essential medical treatment, rehab and equipment. They sell their houses, take 2 or 3 jobs and go into debt to do whatever they can. Now, someone confronts them with a “miracle cure” – and they sink deeper into debt or even give up proven treatment to pay for a quack remedy.
The truth is that no responsible, well-designed research shows any health benefits for glyconutrient supplements, or even suggests that glyconutrient supplements live up to any of the claims, or are useful in treating any medical condition.
Don’t waste your money on these expensive products!